On December 15th, the Draft Scottish Budget will be announced. Here, we answer some of your frequently asked questions about the budget process in Scotland.
The Scottish Budget is published annually and sets out spending plans for the Scottish Government, including spending on non-executive bodies like Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), and agencies like Scottish Enterprise.
It also sets out plans to raise revenue through Scotland-specific national taxes.
The Scottish Draft Budget occasionally incorporates a Spending Review which sets out overarching spending and revenue-raising priorities for multi-year periods. A Spending Review is a “strategic vision for Scotland’s public finances” over a four-five year period, and up to now has usually followed a Comprehensive Spending Review by the UK Government which normally comes after a UK General Election.
The Scotland Budget and UK Budget have entirely separate processes. The UK Budget is developed by the UK Chancellor and the UK Treasury, and has been presented to the UK Parliament as a fait accompli in March. The UK has been one of relatively few countries to begin the financial year in April without an agreed budget, or detailed departmental spending plans. (The current Chancellor has announced that in future he will present a UK Budget to the UK Parliament in the autumn.)
The Scotland Budget was developed with international standards of transparency in mind. Its process was intended to take several months, in order to enable robust scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament. However, in the last couple of years a very late Autumn Statement in the UK has meant that the publication of a Draft Scottish Budget has been delayed. This has reduced the time for scrutiny, and for organisations like Engender and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group to comment on its content.
The reason given for this is that although the Scottish Budget Process is entirely separate from the UK’s, the money that is spent in Scotland mostly comes as a grant funded by taxes collected by the UK Government. The level of the grant is determined by something called the Barnett Formula, and this is calculated based on spending plans for England or England and Wales within the UK Budget.
The Equality Budget Statement (EBS) is released on the same day as the Scottish Draft Budget.
It describes the equalities implications of spending decisions in the Draft Budget. This includes specific programmes for bringing about equality and tackling violence against women, as well as budgets for things like pay in the NHS.
The SWBG along with other women's organisations like Engender want to see the Equality Budget Statement developed into a true gender budget analysis of the Scottish Budget, where the cumulative impact of spending decisions on women’s equality is considered. We are pleased that Scotland, unlike all of the other nations in the UK, has an EBS, but at the moment it seems more like a post hoc narrative of spending decisions than a tool that helps officials to think about gender when they are allocating spending.
The Draft Budget is published on December 15th this year. Its publication is accompanied by a statement in the Scottish Parliament.
After the Draft Budget is published, all of the committees in the Scottish Parliament have time to scrutinise its content. They can bring in external organisations to give evidence to them about the Draft Budget, can put out calls for written responses, and can also appoint committee-specific expert advisers on the specific focus of their scrutiny. If the scrutiny phase is short, then less of this work is possible.
The Equality and Human Rights Committee (EHRC) is a key target for our influencing work, because it has a specific remit to consider the equalities dimensions of the budget. It chooses a specific focus for each scrutiny period. Within the last decade, they have considered equal pay in local government, pay in the NHS, disability rights and equality, and social security.
Each individual committee then writes a formal report to the Finance and Constitution Committee, which incorporates these into its own report. The Finance and Constitution Committee can propose amendments to the spending and taxation proposals, as long as these do not change the topline income and expenditure in the Draft Budget. The Finance and Constitution Committee report is debated by the Scottish Parliament.
Thereafter, the Scottish Government produces a revised Budget in January, along with a bill that is debated by the Scottish Parliament.
The bulk of the work on the Scottish Budget is carried out by civil servants working for the Scottish Government, as directed by Scottish Ministers. Derek Mackay is the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, and he has overall responsibility for the production of the Budget.
Mr Mackay is advised on equalities dimensions of the Budget by the Equality Budgets Advisory Group, which includes representatives from Scottish Women’s Budget Group, Equality and Human Rights Commission, and CoSLA, as well as civil servants who oversee the Equality Budget Statement process and Equalities and Human Rights more broadly.
The budget development process is difficult to describe. It is not the case that the Government decides what it needs to deliver and then allocates spending accordingly. Neither is it the case that topline figures are set for directorates and divisions, and that priorities are determined afterwards. Instead, there is a complex and multidimensional process in which both needs and the ‘spending envelope’ are considered in parallel.
After the Scottish Parliament, advised by NGOs and other stakeholders, has scrutinised the Scottish Budget, the Scottish Government makes changes in response to their comments.
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